You can no longer cross the Canada-U.S. border using only a driver's licence and birth certificate.  Due to changes in U.S. law that took effect June 1, 2009, there are more strict requirements for what identification is required; see the table below for a list of acceptable documents.

This article covers travel to Canada.  If you're travelling to the United States, see United States: Crossing the Border.

Required Documents for Crossing the Border

The documents required to cross the Canada-U.S. border depend on your citizenship, your age, and how you're travelling.  Please understand that customs officers have the power to turn you away from the country you are trying to visit; travelling without the right documents could ruin your vacation.

Citizens of the United States

This table lists the documents you need to visit Canada and to return home hassle-free.

Scenario  Present one of:

By Air
(Adults and Children)

Adults Travelling
By Land or By Sea

Adults Travelling On a US-Based Cruise

For passengers on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same U.S. port):

  • one of the documents listed above, or
  • U.S. birth certificate and government-issued photo ID

Check with your cruise line for more information about entry requirements at all ports of call.

Children Travelling
By Land or By Sea

Children 15 or younger (or 16-18 years old and traveling with an organized and supervised school, religious, or other youth group) may present proof of citizenship without photo ID:

  • a U.S. birth certificate (original, photocopy, or certified copy)
  • U.S. consular report of birth abroad
  • Certificate of U.S. Naturalization
  • one of the documents allowed for adults (listed above)

Children (under 18) travelling without both parents: carry a parental consent letter (see "Travelling with Children" below).

A passport (or NEXUS card) is required to cross the border by air.  This applies if your trip includes a flight between a Canadian and American airport.  However, if you have an Enhanced Driver's Licence or U.S. Passport Card, you can still drive across the Canada/U.S. border and take a domestic flight (e.g. drive Buffalo to Toronto, fly round-trip Toronto/Winnipeg, drive back to Buffalo). 

From CBSA " If you are a citizen of the United States, you do not need a passport to enter Canada. However, you should carry proof of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, as well as photo identification. " But you will need a passport to re-enter the United States, so the border agents will check that you have one to be able to re-enter the U.S.

For more details, see  Canada Border Services Agency   

U.S. citizens with a criminal record (including impaired driving) should see the section on criminal convictions at the bottom of this page.  Please recognize that Canadian border guards have access to databases listing U.S. criminal records.

Citizens of Other Countries

Generally, if you're not a Canadian or U.S. citizen, you require a valid passport to enter Canada.  There are two exceptions:

  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents may use their I-551 ("Green Card") -- instead of a passport -- for travel between Canada and the United States, by air, land, or sea.  The I-551 is accepted for entry to Canada, from the U.S.; a U.S. permanent resident does not require a visa to visit Canada, regardless of citizenship.  When re-entering the U.S., permanent residents must present their I-551.
  • Residents of Greenland and St. Pierre and Miquelon may enter Canada from those territories with proof of citizenship and identity.  If they enter from any other country, a passport is mandatory.

Visitors from some countries may also require a Temporary Resident Visa in order to visit Canada, which you may apply for through a visa office in your own country. Sometimes other documentation will be asked for as well, such as a letter of invitation from a Canadian resident. For more information see the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website.

Use this interactive requirements tool to find out what applies to your situation, or visit the web site of the Canadian embassy, consulate, or high commission in your home country for detailed information on what you need to enter Canada.  You can also contact the embassy with any questions.

For travellers who do not require a visa, Canada does not have a traveller pre-approval program (like ESTA in the United States or ETA in Australia).  The only paperwork for non-visa holders is the simple customs form handed out on international flights.

Returning Canadian Citizens 

What you'll need for border crossings on your trip depends on where you're going:

  • Travel to/from the United States: see United States: Crossing the Border for requirements, or Know Your Border (an official U.S. Customs and Border Protection web site).
  • Travel directly to/from Mexico: As of March 1, 2010, Canadian citizens require a passport to visit Mexico.  (Prior to March, it's still strongly recommended, and most airlines already require a passport to board the flight.)  See also Mexico: Crossing the Border.
  • Travel to/from any other country: Check the country's entry requirements -- you will usually require a passport, and may require a visa.  Also, your airline will likely require you to have a passport to board the flight.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada offers a full traveller's checklist to help you prepare for your trip.

Entering Canada: General Tips and Special Situations

Interview by Border Officer

Carrying the required documents does not guarantee admission into Canada. Visitors will also undergo an interview with a Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer upon arrival to determine admissibility into the country. These interviews are generally short, and will be easier if you are sure to keep your relevant documentation close at hand.

A border screening agent will ask some or all of the following questions, "Where do you live? Citizens of what country? What is the purpose of your visit? How long will you be staying? Are you bringing anything to leave (gifts, etc)? Are you bringing in any firearms, tobacco or alcohol? Do you have any criminal convictions?"  If travelling with children, you may also be asked, " Do your children have proof of identity?"  To avoid delay, be prepared with simple straightforward answers to the questions. Remove any sunglasses, and look the agent in the eye when answering. If the agent has reason to suspect the validity of your answers, especially regarding identity, firearms, tobacco and alcohol, you will be asked to pull over and report inside the main customs building where you must produce identity papers and will likely undergo a vehicle search — all of which can be very time consuming.

Travelling with Children

If a child is traveling with one parent, the border services official may require a letter of permission from the other parent or documentation that demonstrates that the lone parent is the child's sole guardian.  If a child is traveling with someone other than his or her guardian, border authorities will want to see a letter of permission from both of the child's parents / guardians.  Ideally, the letter should be notarized.  You can use this sample letter of consent as a starting point.

Travellers with Criminal Convictions, Including Impaired Driving

People with criminal convictions, including impaired driving convictions may have a problem when entering Canada, but it is at the discretion of the border guard whether to allow you into the country or pull you in for secondary inspection.  If you are pulled into the secondary inspection they will look into the matter and determine whether to let you continue on or turn you around. The more documentation and information you have to provide them the better (court documents, etc.). Generally speaking, although DUI or DWI offences are very serious crimes in Canada, they often will let you by if they can verify all your information and the conviction is not recent.  For more information, see Overcoming Criminal Inadmissibility.  If in doubt, contact Immigration Canada or a Canadian embassy.

Restrictions on Firearms and Other Weapons

Canadian firearms laws differ substantially from firearms laws in the United States. If you are considering bringing your firearm into Canada, make sure that you are familiar with the applicable laws; possession of certain firearms in Canada is illegal, and you may find that these firearms (called "prohibited weapons") will be seized at the border. Other firearms are legal, but subject to stringent regulations relating to their safe transportation and storage. Make sure you are familiar with these laws before you enter Canada. The Canadian Firearms Centre's fact sheet,  Firearm Users Visiting Canada, will answer some basic questions.

Pepper spray, mace and stun guns (Tasers) are also illegal (prohbited weapons) when crossing into Canada.    They must be declared (or risk a $500 fine) as well as surrendered to the authorities and the owner will need to fill out an abandonment form. It is not possible to regain the item(s) upon return to the United States.